Report reveals the down-side of UK and Ireland 'flexible labour'

By agency reporter
May 19, 2009

Migrant workers fill many agency, seasonal and temporary jobs in the UK and Ireland. But according to a new report published this week by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR), they remain vulnerable to very low pay, over-long hours, poor health and safety conditions, workplace discrimination and other forms of injustice.

ECCR’s report, 'Vulnerable Migrant Workers: The Responsibility of Business', reveals the true exposure of migrant workers to unjust conditions in areas of the domestic economy where low-skilled flexible labour is concentrated: care, cleaning, construction, hospitality and catering, food production, manufacturing and retail.

The report compares the policies and practices of nine food production, manufacturing and supermarket companies towards migrant workers, particularly in their supply chains. Companies in the survey include Associated British Foods, Kerry Group, Morrisons, Northern Foods, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Unilever.

"Many companies’ profits benefit from the use of flexible labour in the supply chain," said ECCR’s Researcher, Sunniva Taylor. "Companies and investors therefore have a moral responsibility to reduce the incidence of vulnerable work throughout their business and supply chains."

Church group ECCR argues that accepting moral responsibility makes business sense in protecting companies against legal and reputational risk and improving workforce retention and security of supply.

The report finds that few food companies are explicit about the potential vulnerability of migrant workers or the additional support they may need. While most recognise some responsibility for workers in their supply chains, few appear to have put consideration of labour conditions into the mainstream of their core business practice: a failure which may at times force suppliers to compromise labour conditions.

The report also finds that weaknesses in the rights enforcement system mean that abuses may go undetected and unaddressed.

Paul Whitehouse, chair of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority declared: "This report highlights how vulnerable migrant workers are and recognises that better enforcement of existing laws is required."

Praised by migrant worker support organisation SOS Polonia as "an eye-opening and conscience-shaking document … a must-read for all companies, investors, policy makers and consumers", ECCR’s report highlights the need for companies to:

• Recognise the potential vulnerability of migrant, temporary and agency workers.
• Implement effective codes of conduct for suppliers.
• Increase awareness of rights among all workers.
• Strengthen monitoring and audits.

The full report and executive summary are available at:

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